What You Need to Know About Domestic Violence

What is Domestic Violence?:

Domestic Violence (DV) can be defined as “a pattern of abusive behaviors in any relationship used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another in an intimate, dating or formerly dating relationship”. This violence is committed by a person who is in, wants to be in or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with another. DV includes physical, sexual, emotional/verbal, economic, and psychological abuse.  

Examples of these forms of domestic violence include, but are not limited to these behaviors:

  • Physical abuse: shoving, hitting, pinching, grabbing, biting, hair pulling, etc; denying a partner medical care; forcing alcohol and/or drug abuse; physical intimidation (e.g. blocking doors, throwing objects); use of weapons.
  • Sexual Abuse: coercion or attempting to coerce any sexual acts/behaviors without consent; unwanted touching; threats to find someone who will do what he or she wants sexually; forced sexual activities even after physical violence has occurred; treating one in a sexually demeaning manner; rape.
  • Emotional/Verbal Abuse: put-downs, insults, and rumors/constant criticism; humiliation/diminishing one’s abilities; accusations; threats; possessiveness; overdependence; withdrawal of attention; threats to find another who will do what abuser wants sexually; isolation from friends or family.
  • Economic Abuse: maintaining total control over financial resources; withholding access to money; forced absences at school and/or place of employment.
  • Psychological Abuse: causing fear through intimidation; threats of physical harm to self or other love ones; destruction of property and pets; forced isolation from family, friends, school and/or work.

Many girls in this age group also experience stalking and abuse through the use of technology. Examples include: excessive text/instant messaging; inappropriate postings to social networking sites (e.g. MySpace, Facebook); usage of a cellular device or the internet to call names, harass, or put down by their partner or spread rumors about them.

What is Sexual Assault?:

Sexual assault is any sexual contact, act or behavior in which a person is threatened, coerced, or forced to engage against or without their explicit consent.

Examples of sexual assault include but are not limited to:

  • Inappropriate Touching
  • Forced Kissing
  • Fondling
  • Child Molestation
  • Incest
  • Sodomy
  • Torture of Sexual Nature  
  • Attempted Sexual Intercourse

Forced Sexual Intercourse or Rape (e.g. forced vaginal, anal or oral penetration)

What is Stalking?:

Stalking can be defined as a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. Stalking, like domestic violence many other crimes occurs as series or a pattern of behaviors. Individual events may appear benign, but in the context of the whole are troubling.

Examples consists of a variety of acts including but not limited to:

  • Unwanted phone calls, postal mail, emails,text messages, and/or instant messaging.
  • Following, tracking with GPS.
  • Making unwanted appearances at victim’s home, office, or social location.
  • Sending or leaving gifts.
  • Vandalizing property.
  • Harming pets.

“When I’ve been unsuccessful, I’ve been controlled. When I’ve been successful, I’ve been in control”

Katherine Hepburn, Oscar-winning American actress of film, stage and television


It can be difficult to tell the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship. No two relationships are the same. Behaviors occur at varying degrees, across a “relationship spectrum”. However, here are some common signs of abuse:

  • physically hurting you in any way(e.g. hitting, pushing, spitting or pulling hair)
  • constant put-downs
  • humiliating in public or private
  • checking your cell phone or email without permission
  • extreme jealousy or insecurity
  • starting rumors about you
  • making you feel guilty or immature when you don’t consent to sexual activity
  • explosive temper/mood swings (e.g. yelling, screaming)
  • refusing to practice safe sex
  • possessiveness/isolating you from family or friends
  • blaming your actions for their abusive or unhealthy behavior


“Red Flags” help indicate that you or someone you know is in trouble:

  • unexplained cuts or bruises
  • problems in school
  • lack of interest in former activities
  • isolation from friends
  • little social contact with anyone but the dating partner
  • unexplained changes in weight, demeanor or appearance


Many domestic violence advocates use this “Power and Control Wheel” to help survivors recognize and identify for themselves an unhealthy relationship:

Domestic Violence is defined by a “pattern of behaviors”. Often, it takes survivors 7-9 times before they leave the relationship for good. This is known as the “Cycle of Violence”. Often, there are factors which occur during the “Tension Building” phase. During this phase, a girl is afraid because she knows that they relationship will soon enter the “Explosion/Fight” phase. She may feel pain, fear, despair and humiliation during this time. This is often where survivors will typically leave the relationship and/or seek help. Ending the relationship is the most dangerous time for survivors because abusers often act negatively against loss of control. During the “Denial” phase, abusers minimize their actions and make excuses including blaming partner for the incident and promising to change. Survivors might begin to blame themselves which often causes the abuser to begin the “Honeymoon Phase”. During this phase, they will shower the survivor with love and vow never to repeat past wrongs. The partner, thus, feels hopeful and loved. Even if she wants to leave, most survivors also often have no place to go without a support system. It is harder for the survivor to leave and the cycle starts again. The three ways in which the cycle ends are: when the survivor leaves, death for either or both persons or when the abuser seeks help.

Giving survivors tools to identify harmful partnerships is necessary but showing what healthy relationships look like can help survivors not relapse or repeat unhealthy relationships. The “Equality Wheel” serves as a good model to help survivors distinguish between the two:


Myths surrounding domestic violence are detrimental because they often make it harder to leave the unhealthy relationship. It is important to dispel these myths so that survivors effectively utilize available resources. Here are a few of these myths:

Myth: An abusive person is someone who loses their temper very often.

Fact: Someone may have a “bad temper” but the hallmark of domestic violence is that it is a “pattern of behaviors”. They use these behaviors to exert power and control and may do so even if they are not angry.

Myth: Drinking or using drugs makes someone become an abuser.

Fact: Even if abusers are under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they become violent, those are not thought to be the cause. Research shows that abusers who are recovering alcoholics and addicts are often still abusive after becoming sober.

Myth: Abusers become violent because the partner won’t stop talking, yelling or nagging them.

Fact: Abusers do so because they feel the need to dominate the relationship. Partners may be demanding or even passive and abuse can still occur. Often, abusers blame partners for the violence.

Myth: Most people will end their relationship at the onset of abuse.

Fact: Couples often have arguments that are forgiven and forgotten. The abuser may seem remorseful, promise that it will never happen again, and partners might even begin to blame themselves. This happens during the “honeymoon” phase in the cycle of violence. Sometimes watching other relationships go through the cycle might cause someone to believe that an unhealthy relationship is unavoidable and normal. Around 80% of girls who experience physical violence often continue to date their abuser after the first incident.

Myth: If you leave, the abuse will end.

Fact: There can be many contributing factors that a partner must consider when trying to leave an abusive relationship. Many times religion, financial dependency and, low self-esteem from continuous emotional, mental and psychological abuse can prevent someone from leaving. Also, leaving a relationship is the most dangerous time for girls. They often are stalked and threatened with continued violence or homicide when they do so, at almost 75% when leaving over staying.

Myth: The person being abused can make the abuse stop.

Fact: No one is ever to blame for a person’s violence. Violence is a choice and is 100% of the abuser’s fault. Partners can take steps to protect or increase their safety but cannot predict or change the abuser’s behavior. The only person who can stop the abuse is the person being abusive.

Myth: Rape is caused by lust, uncontrollable sexual urges and the need for sexual gratification.

Fact: Rape is an act of physical violence and domination not motivated by sexual gratification.

Myth: Once a man gets sexually aroused, he can’t just stop.

Fact: Men do not physically need to have sex after becoming sexually excited. They can control themselves after becoming aroused.

Myth: Women often lie about or falsely accuse someone of rape.

Fact: Studies have found that false reports make up only 2 % percent or less of the reported cases of sexual assault. Rapes by someone the victim knows are the least likely to be reported.

Myth: Women provoke sexual assault by their appearance. Sexual attractiveness is a primary reason why a rapist selects a victim.

Fact: Rapists do not select their victims by their appearance. Victims of sexual assault range in age groups from infants to the elderly. Sexual attractiveness is not an issue. Victims are vulnerable and accessible. But they are still not to blame for the assault. It is 100% of the abuser’s fault.

Myth: If a woman really did not want to be raped, she could fight off her attacker.

Fact: Even if the rapist is not carrying a weapon, the element of surprise, shock, fear or the threat of harm can overpower a survivor.

“These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed.”

– Abigail AdamsFormer first lady who advocated for women’s rights, African-American rights, and driving force with keen intelligence and advice for husband John Adams



Young girls face a variety of obstacles that can delay, hinder or prevent them from leaving an unhealthy relationship. We must identify them to prepare a proper course of action, sometimes called “safety planning”, on the journey to recovery. Here are a few:


  • lack of relationship experience
  • embarrassment and fear of social consequences
  • fear of losing independence
  • isolation from support network
  • distrust of adults
  • desire to stay in their relationship or protect their partner
  • limited financial resources
  • co-attendance of school with abuser
  • parents lack of awareness of teens’ abuse(81% of parents do not believe DV is an issue)
  • belief that domestic violence is normal in relationships
  • limited legal protections and recognitions depending on state, especially for under 18s
  • abuse being viewed as a “private” matter
  • fear of retaliation from abuser
  • disbelief that law enforcement can/will do anything to help
  • confusion of the law
  • desire for confidentiality
  • lack of awareness
  • love

College-Aged Women:

  • feeling trapped by the social networks and/or the closed environment of the campus 
  • feeling isolated from their personal support networks and resources for help because the student is away from home for the first time especially out-of-state students 
  • having a small/limited social network due to the campus atmosphere
  • belief that domestic violence is normal in relationships
  • administrators not understanding the scope of the problem or reacting appropriately
  • fear that if parents finding out they will be taken out of school
  • not being able to afford supportive services
  • not defining their experience as “abusive”
  • fear of the abuser especially when the atmosphere of the campus makes it easier for an abuser to stalk his partner
  • social networking sites provide easy access for perpetrators to control their partners
  • disbelief that law enforcement will/can do anything for help
  • confusion of the law
  • desire of confidentiality (especially if abuser has prominent status on campus)
  • lack of awareness (not knowing what resources are available to them on/off campus)
  • love



In order the serve young women to the best of our ability, as advocates we must identify and remove factor hindering reporting and recovery. Here are a few obstacles:

  • Young women often feel physically, emotionally and psychologically coerced into sex.
  • Belief that past consent give indefinite consent.
  • Fears of not being believed, being blamed for the rape, or concerns about privacy.
  • Society that often blames women for the violence that is perpetuated against them.
  • Told what they wore, drank, or said the “wrong thing” which led to their victimization.
  • Beliefs it is not serious enough or worry that the police will not take it seriously.
  • Individual and isolated incidents may appear harmless.

The biggest obstacles facing both teens and college-aged women are LACK OF AWARENESS! Around 67% of young women in a violent relationship never report the abuse. Many do not know the what, where and how’s about different options that are available to them if they want assistance in ending a relationship. Please click the “How/Where to Get Help” tab to learn more about resources available to survivors on the local and national levels.

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life — and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

 Georgia O’KeeffeAmerican artist who revolutionized early 20th century art



Unfortunately, lack of awareness is a huge obstacle that many young women face when planning to leave an abusive relationship. If you or you believe that someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, it can be difficult to handle. The most important thing to remember is that the only person to blame for the violence is the abuser. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger or an assault is in progress, dial 911 and report the incident to police, both on and off campus.

If someone shares that they are in a violent relationship, these are a few helpful things to say:

  • “I am glad you told me. This is important.”
  • “You deserve to be treated well. This is not your fault.”
  • “What would you like to do next?”
  • “I am here for you whenever you need me.”

Don’t be judgmental about their relationship choices, especially if they are not ready to end the relationship. Don’t minimize the abuse or the importance of the relationship. Help them to rebuild their self-confidence so that they can empower herself. It is important that you try not to take control of the situation, unless an emergency situation requires you to do so. Intervening can be dangerous for both the witness and survivor. Encourage the survivor to speak to parents and seek counseling at their high school or on/off campus. Let them know they are not alone and you are here to support them always. If you are not an experienced advocate, the best thing you can do is to educate them about available resources. The following resources are indispensable on both the local and national levels:

Emergency Services/Information:
Metro PD Family Liaison/Domestic Violence Unit (202) 727-7137
Metro PD Sexual Assault (202) 727-3700
DV Intake (202) 561-3000/ (202) 879-7851
Mobile Crisis (202) 673-9300
Psychiatric Emergency Services (202) 673-9319

House of Ruth (202) 347-2777
My Sister’s Place (202) 529-5991
Calvary Women’s Shelter (202) 783-6651
Mary House (202) 635-9025
Safe Place (Sasha Bruce) (202) 547-7777
CCNV (202) 393-4409/ (202) 393-1909
Dwelling Place (202) 583-7602

Legal Aid:
Legal Aid Society (202) 628-1161
Bread for the City (202) 587-0525
WEAVE (202) 452-9550
AYUDA (202) 387-4848
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington (202) 772-4324
American University (202) 274-4140
Georgetown University (202) 662-9640
Catholic University (202) 319-6788
Neighborhood Legal Services Program (202) 399-1346/ (202) 678-2000
DVRP (202) 464-4477
SAFE (202) 408-1476

Support and Additional Services:
Family & Child Services (202) 289-1510
WEAVE (202) 452-9550
DC Rape Crisis Center (202) 333-7273
Ramona’s Way (Main/Supplementary) (202) 561-3000/(202) 257-6790
Whitman Walker Clinic (202) 797-3500
DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence (202) 299-1181
The Women’s Center (202) 293-4580
Crime Victim’s Compensation Program (202) 879-4216
Deaf Abused Women’s Network (202) 861-0258
Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Division (202) 879-1549

National Resources:
U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)
TTY: 1-800-787-3224
U.S. National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673
U.S. National Teen Dating Violence Helpline 1-866-331-9474

Here are other factors to consider when leaving a relationship:

  • getting a lawyer (e.g. obtaining Civil Protection Orders (CPO) or filing criminal cases)
  • safety planning (e.g. numbers to call/places to go for safety, packing getaway bag)
  • changing daily schedule
  • avoiding abuser at all times, if possible
  • keeping CPO and emergency numbers with you at all times
  • staying anonymous online/preventing identity theft
  • financial planning (e.g. budgeting, debt management)

We know the majority of victims do not report incidents to authorities. However, survivors often do talk to someone about their experiences.  Most often it is to a friend or family member. Women are often turned away from loved ones when they are unable to make a choice that appears to be obvious and easy. For this reason, friends and family members of women in violent relationships need to be educated on ways to be a supportive to survivors of domestic and sexual violence and the dynamics of victim blaming attitudes. Here are a few options if you are looking to report sexual assault and/or stalking:

The SANE exam, performed at Washington Hospital Center, is an important step for victims of sexual assault:

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Services

The District of Columbia has developed the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program to provide comprehensive care to adult victims of rape, sexual assault, and other sex crimes. The DC SANE program is a partnership between the Executive Office of Mayor, Office of Victim Services and Washington where medical forensic exams are conducted.

The program is staffed 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week by nurses with specialized training in medical forensic evidence collection. Exams are available to victims within 96 hours of an incident.

DC SANE Services

  • Evidence collection by nurses with specialized training in medical forensic evidence collection.
  • STDs/HIV testing and prophylactic treatment for STDs/HIV and pregnancy.
  • Support services by victim advocates from the DC Rape Crisis Center.
  • Referrals to counseling and crime victim compensation.
  • Follow-up care at the Lighthouse Center for Healing.

A Victim’s Legal Rights

As codified in the DC Crime Victims Rights law, a crime victim has the right to:

  • Be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy.
  • Be reasonably protected from the accused offender.
  • Be notified of court proceedings.
  • Be present at all court proceedings related to the offense, including the sentencing, and release or parole hearings, unless the court determines that the testimony by the victim would be materially affected if the victim heard other testimony or where the needs of justice otherwise require.
  • Confer with an attorney for the prosecution in the case which does not include the authority to direct the prosecution of the case.
  • An order of restitution from the person convicted of the criminal conduct that caused the victim’s loss or injury.


Contact Someone Who Can Help

If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.

If you would like to talk to someone about victimization, please contact any of the following organizations that provide direct assistance to victims in DC.
All contact with these providers is kept confidential.

Program, Project, Service Provider


Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center
(24-hour hotline)

(202) 393-3572

Asian Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project

(202) 464-4477

Ayuda  (support for battered immigrants)

(202) 387-4848

Break the Cycle

1 (888) 988-TEEN (8336)

CASA for Children of DC

(202) 887-0007

Center for Child Protection and Family Support

(202) 544-3144

Children’s National Medical Center

1 (888) 884-2327

DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence

(202) 229-1181

Safe Program  (24-hour hotline)

(202) 879-7851 

DC Office of the Attorney General

(202) 727-3400

DC Rape Crisis Center (24-hour Hotline)

(202) 333-RAPE (7273)

Deaf and Abused Women’s Network

TTY (202) 721-8298

District Alliance for Safe Housing

(202) 785-3274

District of Columbia Courts

(202) 879-1434

Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (24-hour hotline)

1 (800) 676-HIPS (4477)

House of Ruth   (24-hour hotline)

(202) 347-2777

Legal Aid Society (Domestic Violence Intake Center)

(202) 661-5957

Mary’s Center for Maternal and Childcare

(202) 483-8196

Metropolitan Police Department – Victim Assistance

(202) 724-4339

MPD Domestic Violence Unit

(202) 727-7137

MPD Family Liaison Unit (homicide survivors)

(202) 645-9629

MPD Gay and Lesbian Unit

(202) 727-5427

My Sister’s Place (24-hour hotline)

(202) 529-5991

Network for Victim Recovery of DC


Polaris Project

(202) 745-1001

Ramona’s Way (Counseling Case Management)

(202) 561-3000

Reaching Out to Others Together

1 (866) 570-ROOT (7668)

Safe Shores–DC Child Advocacy Center

(202) 671-SAFE (7233)

Second Chance Employment Services

1 (888) 331-7451

Survivors of Homicide

(202) 882-9190 or
(202) 882-1677

Wendt Center for Loss and Healing

(202) 624-0010


Note: The Office of Victim Services provides links to the following resources as a public service. The District government is not responsible for information on websites outside the DC portal. Specific inquiries should be made to the sponsoring organizations.

Are you a victim of Sexual Assault?

Specially-trained registered nurses are available 24/7 to provide you with discreet and confidential medical forensic services. You may choose to report the incident and speak with the police while you are there, but you do not have to talk with the police at any time before, during, or after the exam.

If you are in immediate danger, please dial 911.

To reach the On-Call Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, call


and ask for the SANE On-Call Nurse to be paged.
**Free transportation is available upon request**

If you would have been sexually assaulted and you would like to get a forensic exam, go directly to:

Medstar Washington Hospital Center Emergency Department

110 Irving Street, NW
Washington DC 20010
click here for a map: http://goo.gl/maps/MHiE

If you are coming by metro, exit at the Brookland/CUA stop on the RED line. Exit the station to the right and take the H2 (Van Ness) or H4 (Tenley Town) bus to Med Star Washington Hospital Center. One of these two buses leaves every 10 minutes.


  • To speak to an advocate about your assault or explore your options for services or counseling, please call the Network for Victim Recovery at 202.742.1720 or visit www.nvrdc.org.
  • To report the crime to the police, call 911 or the Metropolitan Police Department Sexual Assault Unit at 202.727-3700.
  • If you have had a SANE exam and you’re interested in follow-up or additional services, please call the DC Rape Crisis Center Hotline at 202.333.RAPE or visit www.dcrcc.org.
  • If you feel unsafe in your home because of your assault, please contact the DC Survivors and Advocates for Empowerment at 202.879.7851 orwww.dcsafe.org.
  • If you are facing homelessness because of your assault, please contact the District Alliance for Safe Housing at 202.462.3274 orwww.dashdc.org.


Download the flyer for the DC SANE Nurse Training in March 2013


  • Comprehensive Physical Examination
  • Collection of a Physical Evidence Recovery Kit
  • Forensic Digital Photography
  • Injury Documentation
  • HIV Risk Assessment
  • Preventative Medications
  • Crisis Counseling through DC Rape Crisis Center
  • Other Community Referrals
  • This program furthers the Department’s mission to strengthen the capacity of victim service providers to serve victims by laying the groundwork for an initiative to enhance communication and collaboration between researchers and practitioners toward more effective services for victims, families, and communities.
  • In response to concerns voiced by victim service providers, the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) recognizes a need to assist the field in becoming more educated consumers of—and contributors to—research and evaluation that can lead to more effective and cost-efficient services for victims of crime. There is also a need to assist the research community in disseminating findings in ways that are accessible, understandable, and useful for the victim services field. OVC will award a cooperative agreement for a comprehensive assessment of victim service providers to ascertain their level of awareness and knowledge about the benefits of social science research and program evaluation for their work with victims of crime, paired with an assessment of researchers’ interest in, and capacity for, translating their work for a practitioner audience. This project is funded through 42 U.S.C. § 10603(c)(1)(A).
  • The goal of the project is to assess the capacity and readiness of victim service providers and social science researchers to engage in meaningful dialogue about critical issues and emerging knowledge in the victims’ field.

Objectives are to:

  • Design a methodology for outreach to a broad range of victim service providers and researchers in criminal justice and the social sciences.
  • Implement activities planned to ascertain knowledge and awareness of research and evaluation among the victims field.
  • Implement activities planned to ascertain level of interest in, and capacity for, translating research for practitioners among the research community.
  • Recommend approaches to bridging observed gaps.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a bill (first passed in 1994 under President Bill Clinton) that improves criminal justice and community-based responses to domestic violence on both the local and national levels. Reauthorized in 2013, VAWA help survivors know that they services provided to them will be thorough and comprehensive making their journey to recovery easier. Click the following link to read an article and learn more about VAWA:


Ending an unhealthy relationship is not the same as ending a healthy one. This is the most dangerous time for survivors because it is difficult to predict how abusers will react to your decision. Here are a few tips for ending a relationship:

  • missing your ex is normal but you must remember why you are leaving in the first place
  • if you are afraid of how they may react to your decision to end the relationship, you must take this into consideration
  • try to break up in a safe place or use the phone/email to ensure safety
  • let relevant parties know about the break-up to gain support from your network of family and friends
  • avoid isolated areas, change schedule and keep all threatening correspondence in case you decide to take legal action against the abuser
  • remind yourself of how strong you are and the progress you are making

“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.”

– Sheryl SandbergAmerican business woman and Current Chief Operating Officer at Facebook

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